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The marvels of Menorca

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACala Macarella, Menorca

Ahh, the Spanish Balearic islands… just the name immediately brings to mind crystal clear, azure water, bronzed bodies, bright sunshine and delicious foods. That’s exactly what I got in Menorca when I went in July!

I spent a good 4 days exploring Menorca, which is the chilled out little sister to Ibiza and Mallorca, offering more affordable prices and equally beautiful calas, or coves. It’s a great place for couples, families with kids and solo travelers. Here’s a quick and easy itinerary to maximize 4 days on this small but precious Spanish island. I recommend renting a car to explore the island, as I found it much easier to travel around without the burden of waiting on buses. One downside is it’s a small island, so expect equally small two-way roads that occasionally become congested with slower drivers, but they are scenic and lush with forests.

Day 1:

I stayed in Cala Galdana in the south of the island, versus in either Ciutadella or Mahon (the two largest cities). Cala Galdana has everything you could want, with a half-resort and half-tiny coastal town feel. There’s a nice beach within walking distance, many restaurants and supermarkets, and lots of accommodation choices. I stayed in a charming apartment “Encanto del Mar,” which had incredible views from the large balcony (although admittedly, there was no AC in 2018, so that was tough in July).

View from Apartamentos Encanto del Mar in Cala Galdana

Cala Galdana is located between several beautiful beaches and calas within relatively short hiking distance (hiking level: beginner to slightly moderate across 2-5 km). The one I checked out and fell in love with was Cala Macarella (and Cala Macarelleta, which is a cove within a cove nearby). It’s about 25-40 hiking from Cala Galdana, depending on your speed; bring water to stay hydrated. The beach in Cala Macarella is beautiful with soft white sand, and there are many families here. There’s also a restaurant, snack bar, restrooms and showers (for 1€) on location, so you don’t necessarily need to bring a packed lunch here. Most other calas, however, are remote and don’t have any bars or restaurants, so just make to know beforehand if you need to bring some food and plenty of water.

Cala Macarella

A brief hike away from Cala Macarella offers a spectacular view of the bluest water your eyes will see, as you enter Cala Macarelleta. It’s a great photo op, plus a chance to appreciate the beauty of this island.

The view on the way to Cala Macarelleta

Once you get to Cala Macarelleta, you can be sure to find a crowded beach of mostly younger adults and topless girls (hey, it’s the European way!). A word of caution: not sure if it was bad luck or just the timing, but in July it was jellyfish season, and they were everywhere around the island. Several people I saw got stung, so just a word of warning… Nonetheless, I soaked up the sun a bit before heading back to Cala Galdana.

Note: You have the option to hike further from Cala Macarella on to get to Cala Turqueta, which I hear is beautiful too. After a long day in the sun and water, the last thing I wanted to do was hike another 3 km to a new beach, totaling 5 km on the way back to Cala Galdana. Perhaps if I had gotten an earlier start on the day, it would have been absolutely fine.

Cala Macarelleta

I don’t know about you, but I love seeking out a beautiful sunset spot when on vacation. I picked the lighthouse Far de Punta Nati in the Northwest tip of the island. The car park is a bit of a walk from the lighthouse itself, and it’s best to get there an hour before sunset to get a spot, otherwise just park on the small road heading to the lighthouse. While I was surprised to see the lighthouse closed for visitors (it was  chained shut), tourists have clearly avoided this by climbing over the fence to the edge of the cliffs. And from there, you pick a ‘comfortable’ rock to sit on and you wait for the sky to begin its miraculous change. I brought sandwiches with us to have dinner there on the spot, so depending how hungry you get, you might think about bringing some food too, as it’s pretty remote out there and it’s during the Spanish dinner hour. While we did have a few last minute clouds encroach on our sunset, it was still a memorable and beautiful view.

The Far de Punta Nati Lighthouse
Lighthouses are always so peaceful to me
Even with a cloud closing in, it was a memorable sunset at Far de Punta Nati

Day 2:

Get a head start on your day and head to Cala Pregonda. Or more accurately, you can’t actually park at Cala Pregonda, since the road leading up to it is private; instead you have to drive to the Binimel.lá beach and park at the restaurant Binimel.la. Then prepare for a bit of a hike (25-30 minutes) to reach the first beach that you may assume is Cala Pregonda, as there are tons of people here. It’s what I thought too, as I planted myself in the sand and chilled on the beach. If you keep hiking 15 more minutes, you’ll reach the actual Cala Pregonda. On the way, savor the views of of both coves.

One side of the beach as you approach Cala Pregonda
The shimmering sea in the middle of the calas
The actual Cala Pregonda, a bit less crowded as it’s farther to reach

Making my long trip back to the car, I was very hungry, so I grabbed a bite at the Binimel.lá restaurant, a beautiful finca remade into a place to get food and drinks after the beach. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a window that faces the sea to enjoy the breeze and the views. The food there is quite good, but be prepared for a wait when you go for lunch, as it’s the only place to eat in the vicinity and a popular spot.

The next stop was the beautiful Cala Morell, which is a small cove amidst a charming white-washed town. I will say the beach was a mix of sand and pebbles, so it was not comfortable to walk on compared to the sandy coves. Here I would recommend to go mainly for the view and an hour of sunbathing, maybe even stay here a night if you like the vibe. The crowd is definitely more adults, no families from what I saw, and some nude sunbathers. Ahh, Europe!

This way to the playa
Cala Morella

In the evening, it was time to check out Ciutadella, one of Menorca’s largest port cities. And let me say, it’s such a gorgeous place! It has colorful, medieval streets and a really nice port filled with restaurants where you can watch the sunset. There are plenty of places to shop and eat, you won’t get bored here. As with any European town, there is a main square, a cathedral and palaces comprising the old town. If I go back to Menorca, I would almost certainly stay in Ciutadella.

Charming streets of Ciutadella

Lovely harbor
Venice vibes in Ciutadella

Day 3:

I decided to check on the Southeast corner of the island, and you guessed it: another cala! This time it was Cala de Binidalí, which has an easily accessible parking and a brief hike down. This beach had a lot of jellyfish when I was there, as it’s common in the summer time. This was not my favorite cala in terms of aesthetics, but what I did like was there there were far fewer people at this beach. Folks picked a space on a boulder or the sand and relaxed. After an hour or so in the beaches, I made my way to Binibeca Vell, a tiny white washed village that I had gotten several recommendations to visit.

Bininbeca Vell is a whitewashed town that mimics authentic Balearic fishing houses. It has narrow alleys, white streets and houses, and there are actually signs to be quiet, as it’s a residential/resort community. It’s worth a short stop in to get lost in the white streets and then eat a delicious meal on a terrace in of the restaurants nearby. Parking is pretty easy along the streets, just mind any signs that require a permit.

Coming back to the apartment, I enjoyed the last rays of sunshine on the balcony of Cala Galdana, welcoming the cooler temperature. By then, it was time for dinner (which, in Spain, is about 9-10 p.m.). Plenty of restaurants in Cala Galdana, and I recommend you try ‘Alaska’ – it has excellent tapas and seafood for a decent price.

Cala de Binidalí
Some seaweed but otherwise ultra clear water at Binidalí
Bininbeca-Vell
Against the white-washed walls of Binibeca-Vell
Small white church in Binibeca-Vell

Day 4:

Keeping in mind that on the fourth day I would be parting with this magical, tiny island, I decided to head in the direction of Mahón, the capital, to enjoy a few hours exploring the historical center and harbor – plus it’s conveniently located by the airport. While Mahón is a very nice city, I wouldn’t stay there if I came back. It’s a good place to spend a few hours, and several boat tours take off from the harbor, but I didn’t find the city as charming as Ciutadella. Plenty of restaurants and shopping in the historical center, with several churches and an outdoor market on Placa Esplanada. If you’re traveling with kids and don’t feel like walking, there’s a 50-minute tourist train that shows you all the city highlights, including the harbor. There is also a 19th century fort called Fortalleza de la Mola that overlooks the city, if you fancy a historical introduction to the city culture.

After a nice lunch, it was time to wrap up the trip and head to the airport. I will definitely be coming back to this lovely island!

Mahón port

Are you planning a trip to the Balearics? Give a shout below with your plans!

 

Lifestyle

Amazing eats in Madrid

18

Food is of utmost importance to me, and when moving to a new place, I make it a point to figure out great places to eat so I can share with others coming to visit. I was lucky to have met like-minded foodie friends when I first moved to Spain. Spanish food is great and all, but who doesn’t love discovering new and delicious places to consume some calories and check out the scene. While I will continue to update this lists as my stomach encounters more delicious spots, here are a few places I recommend if you’re looking to change up your cuisine while visiting Madrid:

  1. Khachapuri
    Delicious khachapuri dishes
    Eggplant and reg peppers in spiced mut sauce

    If you have ever tried Georgian food, you may already know that it is ridiculously delicious. While living in Moscow, I had my fair share of Georgian food because the cuisine was offered on every corner. But in Madrid, I was limited to just ONE restaurant that shared a bit of motherland cooking – and thank goodness it’s REALLY good. The owners are Georgian and the staff speaks Russian.
    Dishes to try: The Georgian pizza dish called Khachapuri “po-mengrelski”.  Try the Khachapuri “po-adjarski”, which is a similar food but with an egg baked on top of what looks like a breaded ‘eye’. The pork and meat dumpings Khinkali are amazing. And finally, the mixed salad eggplant and red pepper, coated with a spiced nut sauce.

  2. Canadiense
    Burger and ribs
    Sweet potato fries and popcorn chicken

    As you may surmise by its name, Canadiense boats dishes from Canada with a key ingredient made famous in its homeland: Maple Syrup! Seriously though, most of their dishes incorporate maple syrup (or ‘arce’ in Spanish). Don’t let that put you off – the food here is delicious.
    Dishes to try: The Canadian “Canadian Burger” on a brioche bun, braised ribs and chicken popcorn, sweet potato fries.

  3. Peko Peko

    Bao Bun
    Kimchidillas


    Feeling like flavorful asian street food with a Spanish twist? Then this is your place. The portions are quite small, so you can try an assortment of things! The ambience of the place is pretty interesting – at first glance it looks like a fast food (or street food) joint, but it’s pretty well designed and most importantly, tasty.
    Dishes to try: Miso Curry, Gyozilla, Light and fluffy Bao buns and Kimchadillas (a Kimchi twist to the Mexican quesadilla).

  4. La Huerta de Almeria

    The grocery section with fresh produce
    Heathy wraps

    I recently discovered this grocery store/quick bite restaurant, in an effort to get back in shape for the summer. I wanted a place where I could buy healthy, prepared foods besides just salads, and this place had a good selections of yummy alternatives. Their fresh squeezed juices are also a welcoming refreshment, especially during the hot Madrid summers.
    Dishes to try: Tex-Mex wrap; any of the fresh-squeezed juices (my favorite was the strawberry, mango and orange; and one of their homemade vegan carrot cakes.

  5. Apartaco for a twist on Venezuelan cuisine


    Madrid has a large Venezuelan population, and luckily their locale cuisine is plentiful around here! In fact, I hadn’t tried Venezuelan food before moving here, and I certainly am not sick of it yet. Apartaco bring authentic Venezuelan cuisine, both simple and delicious, that satisfies your taste buds – and it has vegetarians options!
    Dishes to try: Tequeños, arepas (of course!), tostones (fright bananas covered in guac, salsa and cheese), and llanero a la plancha (which looks like lasagna).
  6. Habanera for a Spanish-style brunch
    The set brunch menu
    Arepa twist on eggs benedict
    Pancakes a la Nutella

    The brunch culture has caught on in Madrid, but I don’t think quite to an extent yet as in the U.S. I struggled for a while to find a decent brunch spot that really impressed me, but I finally found one! Habanera not only has a gorgeous colonial interior and is immaculately decorated, but its brunch food is so delicious. Be sure to make a reservation – this place books up quick!
    Dishes to try: I highly recommend getting the set brunch menu (for 2 pax minimum), which includes everything you could ever want, from croissants to poached eggs. Then try the La Habanera eggs benedict, a twist on the original recipe with a Venezuelan arepa. And for sweets, be sure to try the Tortitas americanas (cupcakes) soaked in a Nutella mouse and sprinkled with berries and chocolate candies.

  7. Socarrat for authentic Valencian paella


    Paella is a notoriously delicious Spanish dish, but it tends to be two things: seafood and GIANT portions (2-4 persons). Finally, I have discovered a delicious and authentic paella restaurant with perfect single portions in many flavors, including meat and vegetable, AND the vibe is great! The paella is savory for a great price (8€). You’ll be full for the entire day!
    Dishes to try: The traditional Paella Valenciana (chicken, rabbit, artichoke, carob, rosemary) is a hit for the non-seafood lovers. From the sea, be sure to try Arroz a Banda (an array of seafood, calamari) or Arroz Negro (black rice, squid and a seafood medley).
  8. Bump Green – healthy and tasteful
    Green mint fresh juice and Hummus de Garrofó o remolacha with vegetable chips
    Noodles de Boniato and Burger de Kimchi
    Brownie de Algarroba

    Looking to enjoy gluten-free, vegan, green options? Check out Bump Green – it’s super tasty and innovative ways to eat clean. Very nice staff and cool, green interior.

  9. Toast Cafe for brunch, because you can never have too much brunch

    When you begin to miss good ol’ brunch from the States, head to Toast Cafe, where you can get a very fulfilling brunch menu for 16€. This includes two courses with a coffee and orange juice. And bonus: if you’re a beer lover, this is a bottle craft joint!
    Dishes to try: Definitely the pancakes and french toast, which you can top with seasonal fruits and syrup. I also am a huge burrito lover, and this place has a legit breakfast burrito! The eggs benedict with salmon are also worth trying.
travel

European summer holiday ideas

IMG_0268Views from Oia, Santorini

Living in Europe has been a very cool experience, mainly because there are so many beautiful places with cultures and languages that are just a short train ride or flight away. Here are my favorite summer holidays in Europe, ranging in price and landscape.

  1. Sardinia, Italy
    Cala Luna,  Sardinia

    Why I love it: It’s a huge island, so there’s a mix of beaches (literally the entire coastline), hikes, mountains, Italian villages and very delicious food (they cook pizza crust with potatoes, and it’s major noms!). It’s a gem in the Mediterranean best discovered by car, with stomach-dropping hairpin mountain roads and soothing sea views. Price range: $$ (I went in June, but I hear prices skyrocket later in the summer, especially in the pricey Costa Smeralda)

  2. Santorini, Greece
    Oia, Santorini

    Why I love it: No matter who you are, you will agree to the picturesque beauty of Santorini that make it internationally renowned. The food is delicious, they make their own wine, and the views are ridiculously pretty. Famous sunsets on the Oia end of the island will be etched in your memory. I recommend staying in Oia in one of the cave houses. It can get pretty busy in summer, but I went in May, and it was just right. Price range: $$$

  3. Dalmatian Coast, Croatia
    Brela, Croatia

    Why I love it: Croatia is one of those countries that surprised me how much I loved it. A rocky mountain coast with glittering clear water offers amazing sunsets and a refreshing swim in chilly waters. The food in Croatia is VERY good, and you can explore the islands around Split, such as Brač and Hvar. Price range: $$

  4. C’ôte d’Azur, France
    Cannes, France

    Why I love it: While I wouldn’t make a habit of going to the South of France due to the impressive price tag, it’s also something recommend you experience at least once. Between the colorful and classic town of Montecarlo, relaxed and stylish Nice, to the star-studded Cannes, there’s something for everyone, between the beaches, parties and shopping. Be prepared to spend a pretty penny for an unforgettable experience.  Price range: $$$$ (especially during Cannes Film Festival)

  5. San Sebastián, Spain
    La Concha, San Sebastián, Spain

    Why I love it: I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to at least one place in Spain I really enjoyed for a holiday, and San Sebastián takes the bait. From incredibly delicious and cheap Basque pintxos to the glittering Bay of Biscay engulfing the horizon, San Sebastián is both great as a getaway with your partner, your girlfriends or your family! There are enough activities for everyone. If you go during a festival, like Semana Grande, there’s even more activities in the streets that are fun, loud and memorable. Price range: $ (Could be $$ during Spanish holidays)